SITTING PROUDLY ON the corner of 74th Street and Third Avenue, J.G. Melon is one of those splendid establishments that make living in New York tolerable. It has a distinct 1930’s feel to it, despite only dating from the 1970’s, which speaks to the taste of its founders. I remember a very jolly gathering there in the winter of our last year in high school; Will, Caro, Scott, Emma, her mother “Momma Kate”, as well as her aunt who still lives in a townhouse nearby (and, as is typical of New York, is currently entrenched in a legal battle with neighbors over an obtrusive wall). It was a splendid evening, boisterous, lively, and full of good conversation, and a window was even broken, though thankfully not by our merry band.
Then there was that one Saturday during the summer when a young lady and I went to the Metropolitan to see the Byzantium exhibit which had received much praise. We duly made our entrance donation, obtained our little ‘M’ tags, and then asked a guard, “Could you point us to the Byzantium exhibit?” “No can do, boss. Closed yesterday.” Brilliant. We had a trawl through the Greek and Roman galleries anyhow (the old Greek and Roman galleries, that is, not the new Greek and Roman galleries that everyone raves about), had a quick (overpriced) drink on the rooftop sculpture garden, and dropped in on the Astor Chinese Court in recompense for missing the glories of Byzantium. Anyhow, leaving the Metropolitan we immediately decided to escape the sun to J.G. Melon’s for a stiff drink and a late lunch and it was the most delicious and satisfying repast you could’ve dreamed of at that precise moment.
I could go on and on, but suffice to say that J.G. Melon’s is a place of happy memories, as is the Upper East Side in general. That neck of the woods was our particular stomping ground towards the end of high school and the first years of college during the breaks, until the gradual dissolution and dispersal of the East 86th Street Conspiracy. I don’t see much of the East Side anymore. Since I began working in the city I have generally avoided staying within its bounds any longer than necessary before skipping back to the lush green quietude of Westchester. Nonetheless, one has to be social from time to time, and its not as if the company of friends is a loathsome burden.
Still, when I suggested to a friend that, it having been over a year since our graduation, perhaps a drink was in order, and she agreed and asked where we should enjoy our cold beverage of choice, I thought “Why not J.G. Melon?” Miss Breed had never been, and so I had the added privilege of introducing someone to one of our favorite little institutions. As I said, I don’t see this neck of the woods as often as I probably should and, inadvertently arriving at Melon’s with time to spare, I decided to head over to Second Avenue to revisit some other old haunts.
During high school we spent hours and hours at Taja, a Moroccan lounge/bar, sipping cocktails, conversing, and getting to know the immigrant waiters from the Maghreb, who were all very happy to be in New York and not Fez or Marrakech, and learning about the utterly different world from which they sprang. There was also Sultan, the Turkish restaurant right next door to Taja, which was always pronounced SULL-tan, not sultin, probably because our circle was mostly composed of diplobrats, the sons and daughters of the New York diplomatic corps. “Mehmet” and “Omar” (names changed for security’s sake) were brothers and the sons of Egyptian diplomats. I remember them bringing a Californian friend to Sultan once, who instantly fell in love with one of the belly dancers who danced there three nights a week. So far as we know, nothing ever came of it. I also remember dining at Sultan with seven or eight of the Bronxville/Fordham Prep circle and for some reason we all decided to order apple martinis to accompany our food (which, by the way, was superb).
Having, as I said, time to spare, I strolled over to Second Avenue to revisit these haunts of my youth and turned at the corner where Baroanda (where they never let us drink) sits. Heading down, I expected to see Sultan and then Taja its happy neighbor, but no. Gone, all gone. Not just closed, but demolished, half the bloody block. These sites of happiness and drink, of conversation and argument were completely destroyed, without a trace of the joy they once provided us. In their place, an empty hole for now, but soon an ugly glass-plated skyscraper full of three-bedroom apartments (for vulgar financiers no doubt). I must take a note of when that shiny edifice will be topped out, so I can go and spit on its foundations.
I HAVE ALWAYS loved the rain, but even higher than rain ranks its offspring, the thunderstorm. From the gentle rolling in the distance to the quite-close strikes, there are few meteorological occurences more dramatic and enjoyable than the clash of thunder and the flash of lightning. This morning I was wakened by the clap and patter of the storm outside, and by the sudden presence of my dog. The poor beast has no appreciation for such weather, and was attempting to gain admittance to the underside of my bed. He was thwarted by the presence of the Encyclopedia of New York State, Tintin: The Complete Companion (by Michael Farr, leading Tintinologist of the English-speaking world), a coffee table book of a Dutch master, and a few discarded copies of the Irish Times with the crosswords half-completed. Sobbing and crying, he gave up and left to find shelter elsewhere.
It was quite a storm, however, and there was no rail service into Grand Central for much of the morning because of flooding along the line. When the MTA finally announced that service had been restored, I went down to the station in town and caught the 9:45 to the city. As one might expect, it was exceptionally crowded and I was forced to stand, leaning uncomfortably against the wall at the back of the train car while I tried to read Rodolfo Fogwill’s Malvinas Requiem (o en castellano, Los Pychyciegos, 1983).
It took forty-five minutes to reach Grand Central instead of the usual thirty-one and the relief upon entering that cool marble temple was dissipated (as it always is, but particularly this morning) by descending into the depths of the subway. I made my way, as per usual, towards the 4/5/6 but found the steps down blocked and an MTA employee standing in front. “No trains?” “No trains.” Blast. Well, I’ll just have to take the shuttle over to Times Square and then the N/R/Q/W down to Union Square. Then the harsh crackle of the station loudspeaker “There is no Times Square shuttle service. No shuttle to Times Square.” Very well, I’ll take the 7 to Times Square instead, and descended myriad other stairways to the platform of the No. 7 train. The 7 must be the deepest line in all Manhattan! It was like falling down into Wonderland to get to it. Anyhow, hopping off the 7 at Times Square, and heading towards the N/R/Q/W platforms, there was a sight of much disappoinment. It’s not the fact that the N/R/Q/W platform was crowded per se but that there was a crowd waiting to even get down to the N/R/Q/W platform. I quit! I decided to ascend to street level, summon a taxi, and get to work the easy way.
Ascending the escalator out of the Times Square subway station, I remembered a time six years previous. Elena Fichtel and I had gone to one of the giant multiplexes on 42nd Street to see “The Others”, a psychological suspense film. There was one very quiet and tense point in the movie where Nicole Kidman holds a glass lamp and look towards the staircase of the grand, dark country house her character inhabits in the film. She believes she has just heard the sound of running feet on the floorboards above when she knows no one could possibly be there. She just glances at the staircase and nothing happens. However there was a very quick change of perspective, and even though nothing happened in the film, the suddenness made Elena elicit an almighty shriek of horror. Her’s was the only one, and the entire jam-packed cinema erupted in laughter at her. It was a truly classic moment.
After the film we ran to the subway, hoping to get to Grand Central in time to catch an advantageous train back to Westchester and make it home for dinner, and it was the very entrance we entered then that I today egressed and made my way to Broadway. A whole mob of people had the same idea as me and were waiting at the side of the Great White Way, forlornly hoping that an empty cab. Weighing my chances, I figured I’d just walk down Broadway from 42nd Street to Herald Square on 34th and pick up the N/R/Q/W there. I should mention at this point that the morning storm had gone completely and had done nothing to lessen the extraordinary temperature, which was certainly in the 90s. Very uncivil of Mother Nature.
I walked down the shady side of Broadway. A Vietnamese woman rested on a crate at a street corner and fanned herself with a nonchalance indicative of her ancestry. A young boy strode determinedly up the boulevard, finger in one ear and cell phone to the other, disputating with (one presumes) a parental figure on the line. A Belgian-looking man bedecked in Venetian red trousers walked fastidiously in the same direction as I. Finally, through Herald Square (which, by the way, has been done up very nicely with those little Parisian chairs and tables akin to Bryant Park) and to the subway entrance. Flooded. Just a few inches, but I was wearing sandals. (Sandals? In the metrop.? It’s summer! And they are sandals of substance, I assure you.) A clever girl in wellies was undeterred. Luckily, another entrance around the corner provided the necessary access.
Then, of course, minutes waiting on a stiflingly hot subway platform. I processed up and down the platform very slowly, feeling that if I stood still I might not budge again. Office-types in suits held their jackets over their shoulders and wiped the sweat from their brows with hankies while a fat black woman sat silently on a bench, shaking her head with dismay at the temperature. After what seemed like eons, the Broadway Express rolled into the station and I was swept away to Union Square in a fine, cool, air-conditioned seat. Exiting the subway into the farmer’s market in the square, I passed the Belgian-looking man in red trousers. We had made it there in the same amount of time, but I had a comfortable air-conditioned seat much of the way. (Or so I rationalized).
By the time I arrived at my office it had been a full two hours since I had left the comfort of my home! Nonetheless, I enjoyed the morning’s storm as I lay comfortably under the covers in my room. The pitter-pat on glass, the sudden flash, and the anticipation finally quenched by the rolling boom. When we were children, we always counted the seconds between the flash and the boom and multiplied it by some magical number to discover how far away the lightning struck. When we were younger than that, we believed that thunderstorms were when the angels and demons were bowling. And whenever a storm cleared, I thought to myself “Oh good, the angels won again”.